How can we work within the existing systems to really make good things happen in our community? 

This is a large question, but Cecilia Espinola, President of Housing Matters’ Board of Directors, has dedicated herself to finding this answer in everything she does. Through her creativity and leadership in her position as former Director of Santa Cruz County’s Human Services Department, to being the newly named Housing Matters Board President, Cecilia’s career illustrates her dedication to supporting our community in any way she can. Her story represents resilience and creativity and we are so proud to have her on our team.

Could you tell me a bit about your background leading up to joining Housing Matters’ Board of Directors?

I retired at the end of 2016, after serving as the Director of the County’s Human Services Department for 20 years here in Santa Cruz. As the Director, I was responsible for implementing and overseeing various federal and state social programs serving local residents in need. We worked closely with the community including non-profit organizations such as Housing Matters, to make sure programs were both responsive to community need and reaching those in need of help.

How did you first learn about Housing Matters?

There is, and has always been, a need for community partnership in addressing social issues such as homelessness. Housing Matters is a leader in addressing homelessness. I had the fortunate experience of sitting down with Phil Kramer, Housing Matters’ Executive Director, and Claudia Brown, the then board president and long time advocate, to discuss the important work of Housing Matters and the need for sustainable funding. Gaining a deeper understanding of the day-to-day work of Housing Matters, I was able to identify funding sources to support them and deepen the working relationship between the County and Housing Matters in addressing homelessness.

What led up to your joining the board?

When I retired from the County in 2016, homelessness had emerged as one of the biggest public health issues facing not only our community but the state as a whole. After taking some time to decompress, I was asked by Phil and Claudia to join the Board of Directors and their effort to end homelessness in our community. Given my profound respect for Phil, Claudia and the work of Housing Matters, of course I said yes.

As a social worker and longtime county resident, I cannot turn a blind eye to what we see every day on our streets: people in need of a home.

Housing Matters uses the Housing First Model along with data to inform their day-to-day work with people. Because of their approach, they are successful in housing people, one person or a family at a time. It is hard work but they are making a difference and who wouldn’t want to be a part of this effort?!

What have been some of your greatest learnings since joining the Board?

When I joined the board in 2018, I already had a healthy respect for how hard nonprofit leaders work. But to experience up-front and personal the ever-shifting funding landscape, well, it took my breath away. 

I am also struck by not only how committed and passionate the staff is but also by the commitment and passion of board members. Community members have also stepped up and generously supported Housing Matters over the past year as we have all struggled with COVID-19 and the fires.The community is a vital and critical partner in our fight to end homelessness; we cannot do it alone but together we can make a difference, and that is exactly what we are doing.

What are you looking forward to as President of the Board?

Housing Matters has recently received approval to move forward with construction of a multi-level building on our site to provide permanent supportive housing to 120 people. This is an exciting new effort for us and the community at large and I’m feeling very optimistic about the future. I look forward to partnering with community members and the County’s new Housing for Health Division to expand housing opportunities and to secure ongoing sustainable funding to support Housing Matters’ vital and essential work in getting people housed.  

This story was collected in February of 2021 by Andrea Feltz, Community Engagement Manager